Seattle totem pole-Rick Williams

  • 21000

The history of the Seattle Totem Pole begins in the Tlingit village of Tongass, in Southern Alaska, where it was carved as a memorial pole to a woman who drowned in the Nass River on the way to aid a sister who was ill.  This made the pole a rarity among rarities, as it was one of the few totem poles dedicated a woman.  The Tlingit family that made the dedication was the Raven family, as is shown on the Seattle Totem Pole, where Raven sits atop.

However, in 1899, a chartered tour to Southern Alaska of Seattle businessmen came upon Tongass village while the village men were out fishing, and the village women were working outside the village.  The Seattlites chose to take the most elaborate pole of the village back to Seattle, where it was erected on October 18th in Pioneer Square.  The people who took the pole were later fined for the deed, but the piece remained in the square as part of Seattle until 1938, when a great city-wide fire damaged the pole, and it was found to be beyond repair.

The United States Forest Service was at the time restoring lost or damaged totem poles in Alaska, and Seattle arranged with the service to have its troop of Tlingit carvers restore the lost Seattle Totem Pole.  The team of carvers resided in Alaska, and were lead by Charles Brown.  Coincidentally, many carvers among the team belonged to the Raven family who originally carved the pole.  The new pole was carved, and then covered with many layers of wood preserve, and was erected in Pioneer Square on July 27th, 1940.  The original, yet damaged pole, was returned to the original owners.  The pole of 1940 still remains in Pioneer Square, on 1st Avenue and Yesler Way, repainted and reapplied with wood preserve on a regular basis.

The largest change in the information about the Seattle Totem Pole is what we know about the meaning of each individual totem on the pole.  Each totem was picked to represent the stories that were associated with that animal.  For example, there are three instances of Raven on the totem, but each one is meant to represent something different.

At the very top of the pole, Raven sits, holding the crescent moon in his beak.  This totem represents not just the family who made the memorial, the Raven Family, but also Raven's most famous story, where he brings light to the world in the form of both the moon and the sun.

The second figure down is a woman holding her frog child, sitting atop her frog husband.  Below them, Mink sits, who is often a helper of Raven in his trickster plans.  The next totem is again Raven, who is followed by Whale with a seal in his mouth.  The very last totem is Raven-at-the-head-of-Nass, who has many stories involving the Nass river, and may be particularly significant to this totem pole as the woman it was memorialized to drowned in the Nass river.  This particular one can be identified by its distinct crooked beak.


Rick Williams has lived around totems and carvers all his life. 

His father, Ray Williams, was a master carver who had totems exhibited in museums all over the United States and Canada, including the Smithsonian and the White House.  Before he passed away in 1989, Ray was able to pass on his knowledge to Rick and his brothers and sisters as well as a few other local carvers lucky enough to get an apprenticeship. 

The Williams family is a member of the Nitinat Band (Eagle Clan), which is a part of the West Coast Tribe.  The West Coast peoples are originally from Vancouver Island.  The family's carving style is that of the Nitinat tradition. 

Rick has been able to take the traditional Nitinat style of his father and adapt a variety of colors to blend with his artistic vision.  Rick often uses the traditional symbols of Thunderbird, Bear, and Frog in his carvings.

 The Williams family of artists has been carving for many generations.  The result of this long family tradition is a style that is not only traditional and technically skillful, but also aesthetically pleasing.

 We here at Ye Olde Curiosity Shop are proud to have done business with the Williams family for the past one hundred years.


This pole measures 1 foot tall x 1.5 inches wide x 1.5 inches deep.  Hand carved from yellow cedar.  



Sold Out